It took John Wathan only one year to return to the helm of a major-league team, but he would have preferred to do it under other circumstances.
Wathan, dismissed a year ago yesterday as manager by the Kansas City Royals, took over the California Angels yesterday on an interim basis. He'll fill in while manager Buck Rodgers recuperates from injuries suffered early Thursday, when one of two buses carrying the team crashed on the New Jersey Turnpike en route from New York to Baltimore for a three-game series with the Orioles that began last night.
Wathan, the team's third-base coach, spoke with Rodgers, who suffered a fractured rib, fractured right elbow and fractured left knee, to lift his spirits and get marching orders.
"I told him good luck and, hopefully, we can get him some wins. That would be the best medicine," said Wathan.
Rodgers' injuries were the most severe among the 12 Angels coaches and players hurt when their bus swerved off the turnpike and crashed into a grove of trees near Deptford Township, N.J.
Dr. Lewis Yocum, the team's orthopedist, said Rodgers will be flown today in a plane furnished with ambulatory equipment back to Southern California for surgery tomorrow.
Yocum said the force of the accident fractured Rodgers' elbow into a number of pieces on both sides of the arm, and that he likely will have arthritis in the elbow afterward.
"The surgery is designed to get his full motion back [in his elbow]," said Yocum. "Will he get his full motion back? I hope so, but I can't predict."
Yocum did say that Rodgers likely will be out of the dugout for two to three months while he recuperates.
In addition, infielder Bobby Rose was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a lateral sprain of the right ankle suffered in the accident. Utility infielder Luis Sojo was recalled from the Triple-A Edmonton Trappers to fill Rose's spot on the roster.
First baseman Alvin Davis was released from a Woodbury, N.J., hospital, but likely will miss the Orioles series with possible kidney damage.
Wathan said he plans to manage in the same fashion that Rodgers did, hitting-and-running and taking extra bases as much as possible with a team that is tied for 10th in runs and eighth in home runs in the American League.
"His character and attitude is much like mine. I like to hit and run and keep things moving," said Wathan, who inherits a team that has lost three straight and five of its past six.
Wathan said the lineup probably will resemble the one fielded in New York on Wednesday night. He said he will manage from the third base coaching box and rely on pitching coach Marcel Lachemann for information on when a pitcher would need to be removed.
Thoughts of Rodgers, who is in his first full season as California manager, aren't far from the Angels' minds.
"We're not going to hold hands and say, 'Win this one for the Bucker.' It's not going to happen," said catcher Ron Tingley. "We'll win this one for the team and he's a part of the team."